Josh Maurer performed well the last time he came to Whistler.
The national development team ski jumper hit the top-six three times in national championships action last February, including taking a bronze medal. He was also the top Canadian performer in the event.
After a year traversing Europe and into Asia on the Continental Cup tour, the 20-year-old Calgarian is glad to have returned to Canadian soil for the Canadian National Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Championships at Whistler Olympic Park from March 30 to April 2.
"I'm so happy to be back in Whistler," he said.
"I've figured out a lot of what works for me and what doesn't in the last year... I've become very accustomed to living in Europe in that time, competing every weekend and getting a little less training and a little more competition time in."
Since he was last here, Maurer said he's come a long way in his growth as an athlete. Though hills can look fairly similar, he notes, each provides its own set of challenges that a competitor must address.
"Every hill has a couple official training jumps to figure out what the hill is like and the small, technical changes you need to make," he said. "Some hills you have to be more aggressive on, or more passive. You have to fly some of them different. Some of them have different tracks, how they're built, and you have to approach your in-run position differently on some of them," he explained. "You get a couple jumps to figure it out and then you go into the competition."
Though some of his Canuck competition has touched down in the Callaghan Valley this season, a perk Maurer hasn't yet enjoyed, he's still familiar enough with the layout that he feels strong heading in.
"Some of the other athletes have had jumps on it more recently, but I'm not too worried about that because it's a hill I've jumped a lot since the Olympics were hosted here," he said. "I really like the big hill. The 90 (-metre jump) is one of my favourite 90s just because it flies like a normal big hill.
"The air's thicker so you get a lot more pressure and it flies bigger than most 90s."
The event will also include the first big event on the smaller 20- and 40-metre jumps, which opened last season, as March 30 will see beginners take part in the small hills competition. The goal is to develop young ski jumpers in the region and eventually see them compete in the national competition and beyond.
Whistler Sport Legacies contract coach John Heilig doesn't expect the small-hill competition to welcome a large number of competitors, though some from Calgary and Minnesota are expected to bring the field to about 10 athletes.
"There will be about three or four local kids. It's their very first small-hill competition that we've planned," he said. "We've introduced over 100 kids to jumping in the last year and a half and we have a group of kids training regularly either on Wednesday nights or on Sundays. There's in the neighbourhood of 14 or 15 kids who are consistently training not every week but close."
Heilig noted most are jumping off the 20-metre hill, though some have graduated to the 40-metre challenge.
"It's a pretty good accomplishment for being in the sport for, in some cases, one year and in some cases, two years," he said.
Heilig said there are plans to develop a "house league" next season with four or five events scattered throughout the winter to help the jumpers continue their ascent.
"They're enjoying the sport right now. They're not competing so they're just enjoying it for the pleasure of flying," he said.
Heilig also noted that with women's ski jumping only making its Olympic debut in 2014 and women's Nordic combined (ski jumping and cross-country skiing) being targeted for inclusion in the 2022 Games in Beijing, there are opportunities for young skiers to make an impression fairly quickly should they so desire.
"We'd love to capitalize on it and we see there are many opportunities in jumping and Nordic combined," he said.
One potential skier is 14-year-old Annabella Zarow, who has been training for just over two years and is excited for her first competition. Zarow plans to do both the 20- and 40-metre events.
"I haven't had the chance to compete yet," she said. "I'm super excited to finally be jumping... It should be a great time."